McCain Impressed by US Trains, So Long as They Don’t Stay in US

mccain.jpg Our friend Sean Roche sent us a link to this brain-bending video of John McCain stumping in Pennsylvania. Just before the 1:00 mark, after McCain gives an ambiguous plug for electric cars, he unloads this doozy:

"I was with Governor [Tom] Ridge yesterday, and we visited a General Electric plant in Erie that makes — guess what? — locomotives. That’s not viewed as, quote, high tech, is it? But you’d be amazed at the product, of the thousands of workers that are working there and building a locomotive that over half of their business is through exports, because they build the best locomotives in the world in Erie, Pennsylvania."

As Sean notes, high tech and well-made as Erie-produced trains may be, a more significant factor in the plant’s export ratio could be that "because of decades of terrible transportation policy, there’s not much of a market for locomotives in this country." And who do the folks in Erie, PA have to thank for that? Why, Senator John McCain, for one — who, as perhaps the most outspoken opponent of domestic rail in Washington, has done everything in his power to cripple the very industry those "thousands of workers" depend on for the well-being of themselves and their families.

But hey, if McCain is elected president and finally succeeds in putting Amtrak out of business, maybe all those GE employees could get jobs building the Car of the Future.

  • What’s not high-tech about locomotives, McCain? They can run on diesel, hybrid, or all-electric engines — and the latter have been viable for a lot longer than electric cars. France’s bullet trains are setting speed records. Vienna’s trams are made by Porsche. And GE boasts “8000 fuel savings solutions” on its website.

  • Max Rockatansky

    McCain should have taken some credit – thanks to his crippling of Amtrak we’ve increased the relative percentage of locomotive exports. They outnumber domestic orders greatly, further showing the superiority of American craftsmanship!

  • gecko

    Regarding the last link “Car of the Future” it seems that Elizabeth Kolbert neglects to consider small light, streamlined, less than 100 pounds, ruggedized human-power vehicles (The Secret Weapon apparently!) when she writes at the very end:

    “If someone, somewhere, comes up with a source of power that is safe, inexpensive, and for all intents and purposes inexhaustible, then we, the Chinese, the Indians, and everyone else on the planet can keep on truckin’. Barring that, the car of the future may turn out to be no car at all.”

  • gecko

    correction: . . . hybrid human-electric vehicles . . .

  • “If someone, somewhere, comes up with a source of power that is safe, inexpensive, and for all intents and purposes inexhaustible, then we, the Chinese, the Indians, and everyone else on the planet can keep on truckin’”

    Plus a source of the raw materials needed to build all those cars. Remember that about 30% of the environmental impact of a car is a result of its manufacturing and disposal, and 70% is a result of its operation. Even if we got rid of the entire environmental impact of operation, the remaining impact would be huge if Chinese, Indians, and everyone else on the planet owned as many cars as Americans do.

  • gecko

    #5 Charles Siegel, Exactly! Except the 30% environmental impact and 70% operation analysis are percentages of typically way too low base values considering lots of costs and externalities not considered; on the macro scale alone, perhaps, where Joseph Stiglitz has estimated the Iraq war cost on the order of $3 trillion for the US; Charles Komanoff quantifies US auto costs something like $300 billion (one-third trillion) annually.

    Total global environmental services provided by earth to humanity has been estimated at $30 trillion; an absurdly low figure and a completely nonsensical idea.

    Comprehending the ongoing and accumulating devastation of our extremely primitive, dangerous, and wasteful transportation habits is difficult to imagine.

  • George Fleming

    Chill! GE makes excellent freight locomotives, which sell quite well domestically, if you please. They also made the P42 Amtrak locos (and variants). But their bread and butter is the freight business — which is going gangbusters. Don’t confuse freight with passenger business. And passenger is made up of different elements: Long Distance (i.e., overnight), intercity, regional, commuter, and local transit. It’s a mix. The US has the best-performing rail freight system in the world. Passenger — not so good on most levels.

  • uSkyscraper

    Seriously – barking up the wrong tree here. If anything, the underfunding of passenger rail spurred the freight business, and those GE locomotives are pulling containers, not commuters. It’s actually surprising that they do export so much, since Europe has a very small rail freight market (due to their excellent passenger network).

    Really should retract this story and wait for a proper opportunity to cut up politicians when they actually do something that is anti-transit, like cut the gas tax.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    So, Skysraper, how specifically was passenger rail underfunded historically? Was it that when the private carriers owned the railroads and streetcars their fares were held down by political pressure on the State and Local level while their freight components were regulated Federally but allowed to profit? Did that make them prefer to provide freight service at a profit rather than passenger service at a loss?

    Is there not a present component of that conflict of interest? Did not deregulation of trucking, busing, airline and railroad rates over the last twenty years allow the operators to charge what they wanted, consolidate and monopolize while the public operations (MTA, AMTRAK) etc. are expected to provide a service and never increase the price of that service regardless of inflationary pressure?

    Also, when the passenger rail services bankrupted the private operators 40 years ago what happened to the industrial users of the freight services? Conrail was handed a monopoly on New York, New Jersey and the entire East. Did that have anything to do with the de-industrialization of the East? Did the suburban preference for passenger service (at a price limited by government) not have anything to do with the elimination of freight service to the city industrial employers?

    How about Jamaica Queens? It used to be a great industrial neighborhood, until it became a platform for passenger service and suburban sprawl.

  • uSkyscraper

    The passenger rail system was underfunded, in a relative sense, when the government chose to create that little landscape project known as the Interstate Highway System. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    So underfunding is a sort of relative term and the history of transportation began in the 1950s. I have always called the interstate highway system “Socialism for trucks”. So you say that the competition created by the highways and the move of industrial customers to the suburbs served by those highways only effected passenger service. I understand now, thanks for the clarification. So giving the railroads land grants on either side of the right of way to create the service from the get-go was not a government subsidy? Maybe I’m still confused. I may be under a misunderstanding that the government played a huge role in the creation of the railroads all along. I also misunderstand how government always has seemed to play a big role in the creation, funding and maintenance of all transportation systems. So what you are saying is that had the government continued to fatten the accounts of the railroad barons that then passenger rail would have taken off as a private enterprise?

  • George Fleming

    For starters, the major land grants of the 19th century gave the railroads half of the land around the railroad right-of-way in a swath about 20 miles wide, IIRC. Land which the government couldn’t sell at $1 an acre (no transportation!) then was sold for $2 an acre, so there was no net cost to the Federal government — except for the Army and their treatment of the native Americans, of course. In addition, until the Depression, the railroads had to, in return, carry government freight (and passenger, I think) at half rates. At least in these regards, the land grants were a good deal for the Federals.

    Remember, too, that freight and passenger rates were controlled by the (Federal) Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) until the railroads were deregulated about a third of a century ago.

  • uSkyscraper

    Having trouble navigating the tortured arguments here, so I’ll stick to the basics. The true cost of car use is not currently borne by users. This distorted the market, the entire economy reformed itself to adapt, and the rails were left to the only purpose that could make sense of them, which was long-distance freight. Plants like the one in Erie make locomotives that pull mostly freight trains, which sell well around the world due to the strong domestic market that funds the development of said locomotives. McCain held a political event at a plant with lots of workers for a political photo-op. A blogger decided to link this visit to an unrelated previous comment on privatizing Amtrak by McCain. Why are we talking about this again?

  • Alex

    GE locomotives are very popular in North America, and not just for export. Just look at the wiki page of GE’s latest model to see its NA sales:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GE_ES44DC

    You guys realize that these are locomotives for Freight trains right? And that Freight companies in NA are doing very well. Do not lump the crappy passenger rail in NA with the booming freight rail.

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